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Photos by John Riceburg
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Kreuzberg is under a state of siege. For the last week, 1720 police have sealed off four city blocks surrounding Ohlauer Str., where a former school housed a hybrid crowd of squatters and refugees. Residents are only allowed to go to their houses if they show an ID. No one else can go past the police barricades.
Why has an entire Kiez been locked down? The police operation is directed against 40 refugees camping on the roof of the school on Ohlauer Straße. The former Gerhart-Hauptmann-Schule was occupied a year and a half ago by activists from the protest camp at Oranienplatz.
Lots of people moved in, perhaps as many as 600. The sanitary conditions were terrible – just one shower in the whole building! – and there were repeated cases of violence, which shouldn't be a surprise when people from so many different cultural backgrounds (from sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa to the Balkans) and with so many legal situations (some have some kind of visa, some are refugees, some are totally paper-less, others are Germans or have a Schengen passport!) are forced to live with 20 other people in one room. But the refugees preferred this to the Lager (camps) they are forced to live in as asylum seekers.
Last week, on June 24, the Bezirksamt (district government) ordered the eviction of the school – supposedly so it could be converted into an official refugee centre. They wanted the residents to leave "voluntarily", but brought along over 1000 heavily armed riot police. Under this pressure, several hundred people left. Supporters report, however, that they were not allowed to take their meagre possessions, and some are now living out on the street because they couldn't get into the promised housing.
Forty fled onto the roof, demanding a right to stay and to maintain the school as a self-organized political space for refugees. They were and still are to this very moment threatening to jump if the police try to storm the roof.
So on Tuesday, the neighbourhood was under police control – not even the press could get in. "I went to get groceries from Penny," said Belén, who lives on nearby Lausitzer Straße, "and they wouldn't let me back in." She has a Spanish ID that doesn't contain her Berlin address. After a long discussion, the police accompanied her all the way to her door.
"Bist du taub, du Wichser, du kannst hier nicht rein!" one police officer screams at a man who wants to get past the blockade. The men in black (or green) Robocop uniforms, who have been brought in from as far away as Bavaria, let a Pizza Taxi through for themselves – but held up an ambulance for a resident.
Almost 100 local shops haven't seen a single customer in the last week. On Monday, more than 50 AnwohnerInnen met up and decided to write a protest letter to the district, followed by more direct action through a successful storming of the blockade later that afternoon. "It's a bit beklemmend to have to show your ID just to go home," says Martin, who lives on Reichenberger Straße
Trying to keep a sense of Berlin’s playful anarchy, some protestors traded in storm tactics with a friendly game of badminton – over the heads of the police lines. A shuttlecock of resistance. A neighbour told the Tagesspiegel: "In the past two years I've walked past the occupied school almost every day and I never felt unsafe." Now he sees police attacking peaceful demonstrators.
Yesterday, 2000 students went on strike to support the refugees (just like in February). The police brutally attacked underage demonstrators with batons, pepper spray and dogs: one had his nose broken.
As the strike ended at 12:45, news came that Hans Panhoff, the Kreuzberger Baustadtrat from the Green Party, had washed his hands of the matter and faxed a Räumungsersuchen (a request to evict) to the police. All hell broke loose: sirens were blaring throughout Kreuzberg and in the next few hours there was extreme violence against peaceful sit-ins. I personally saw at least one broken arm and one broken foot.
Now none of the politicians want to take responsibility. Kreuzberg mayor Monika Herrmann has disappeared and there are rumours she has called on her party colleague Panhoff to resign. The Green Party is contradicting itself with every new statement: they are against an eviction, no eviction was ordered, and an eviction wouldn't be so bad. In the Green heartland of the middle-class Öko apartments around Ohlauer Straße, people are angry.
Why can't they just let the refugees stay? Paragraph 23 of the asylum law would make it possible to grant them all asylum for humanitarian reasons.
But Berlin's interior Senator Frank Henkel from the CDU says "the state can't let itself be blackmailed". He doesn't like to mention that he came to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1981 as a refugee from his native country, the GDR. He didn't fulfil any of the conditions he now demands from refugees, such as proving he had to flee for political and not economic reasons.
Demonstrators and activists are calling on Berliners to help break the stage of siege: Go to the Ohlauer Straße and join the sit-ins!